Troilus and Criseyde (Chaucer)

Imagine a high classical version of Romeo and Juliet. The characters have a higher (although not by much) IQ. If one has read Shakespeare’s version, then this will not have the same shock value (though the ending is pretty obvious in these types of situations). Chaucer writes this in “Royal Rime:” seven line stanzas in a-b-a-bb-cc.

Troilus is the son of King Priam and brother of Hector. Criseyde is the widow of a Trojan soldier. Pandar, Criseyde’s uncle, serves as the middleman between the two.

I will not spoil too much of the story; rather, I will use this space to quote Troilus’s famous monologue on Necessity vs. Free Will. Chaucer is no doubt summarizing late medieval debates about predestination and necessity. This easily surpasses most systematic theologies in terms of sophistication and clarity.

(From Book IV, stanzas 137ff)

“For all that comes, comes by necessity,
Thus to be done for is my destiny.”

This is obviously a strong version of determinism. Troilus does not actually maintain this position.

“For if there were the slightest hesitation
Or any slip in God’s foreordering,
Foreknowledge then were not a certain thing.”

This is certainly true. What Troilus does not understand is that God’s knowing of a thing does not force one’s actions. He asks the correct question: does necessity reside in the event itself?

“Of all the human things we call events
Or does necessity in them reside.
And thus ordaining cause for them provide?”

Is the event itself the causal factor? Maybe proximately.

Troilus, unfortunately, is not able to maintain the balance between necessity and contingency. He opts for fatalism:

“And by these arguments you may well see
That all things that on the earth befall,
By plain necessity, they happen all.”

In philosophical terms, Troilus committed a modal fallacy.

P1. ☐, if Christ predicted Judas’s betrayal, then Judas would betray Christ.
P2. Christ predicted Judas’s betrayal.
C1: ☐, Judas betrayed Christ.

This fallacy confuses the necessity of the inference with the necessity of the consequent (a more absolute necessity). The inference of Q from the premises ☐ (P⊃Q) is necessary in accordance with modus ponens. But Q itself, the consequent of the conditional ☐ (P⊃Q), is not itself necessary.

Take premise Q by itself (Judas would betray Christ). It does not exist in isolation. It is not a necessarily self-generating proposition. It is only necessary as a conditional necessity within the syllogism. This is what the older Reformed writers called “the necessity of the consequence,” in distinction from the necessity of the consequent thing.

Back to the book. Although this is a poem about pagan heroes, Chaucer, for whatever reason, ends with a beautiful hymn to the Trinity:

“O Thou eternal Three and Two and One
Reigning forever in One and Two and Three,
Boundless, but binding all through Father and Son,
From Foes unseen and seen deliver me;
And blessed Jesus turn our love to thee…


Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works

Davies, Brian and Evans, Gillian. eds. Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

In 2005, I bought this volume before I left for seminary. It has been a constant companion ever since. Anselm did not anticipate every problem in contemporary philosophy of religion, but he did anticipate the most important problems. Even when his conclusions might not convince, one can only stand in wonder at how clearly he stated the problems.


This is Anselm’s treatise on God’s being.  It should be required reading for all discussions on divine simplicity. In short, differing things can both be said to be “good,” yet it is clear they are not the same thing. They are good though a greater good. This ultimate good is good through itself. Anselm calls this the supreme good and ascribes the predicate “existence” to it. This is the first plank in the “perfect being theology.”  

Everything that exists, exists through something or nothing. Obviously not through nothing. There is either one or more things through which everything exists. Either one of these options will ultimately reduce to one thing.[i] Anything that exists through something other than itself is necessarily less than that thing through which it exists. Anselm calls this the divine essence. It is the highest good and efficient cause of all things.

Creation ex nihilo

Things didn’t spring from nothing as from a void.  Rather, they pre-existed in the Divine Mind. The Supreme Essence creates through an “inner verbalization.[ii]

Back to the main argument (sec. 15): “Now it is quite out of bounds to imagine that there could be some P true of the substance of the supreme nature such that ~P would be better in some respect.”  

God and Time

Sect. 21 gives the standard account of God’s timelessness. The Supreme Essence is not spatially in time.  Rather, it is present as a whole simultaneously to all places and times.

Sect. 23: We say God exists everywhere rather than in every place.

Sect. 26ff: Substance language.  In the rest of the treatise Anselm explores how the Son is of the Father.  It’s a good meditation but nothing new here.

Proslogion and Reply to Gaunilo

Either you are convinced of the ontological argument or you are not. I think it is more of a meditation on divine perfections than an actual argument. Gaunilo’s analogy to an island doesn’t work because an island, or a tree, implies contingency. A perfect being implies necessity.

Kant’s objection:  existence isn’t a predicate. A concept must contain as much content as possible.
Response: Kant’s objection holds for contingent things.  But if we are talking about modal necessity, it might not hold.

On Truth

In this dialogue Anselm begins by setting forth a roughly Platonic theory of truth: something is true by its participation in the truth.  That’s true (no pun intended).  It’s inadequate, though.  He sharpens it to mean: “A true statement has ‘its cause of truth.’”  There is something that just makes it true.  Modern analytic philosophy calls this something “a truthmaker.”  It is to Anselm’s credit that he anticipated this development. Of course, truthmaker theory is itself dense and this discussion can’t exhaust it.

He expands it to mean “truth is rectitude” (1.2). It fulfills its function of signifying rightly. In fact, he asserts that if both “truth” and “acting well” have the same contrary, then “they are not different in signification” (1.5).

This raises a problem, though.  If there is correlation between truth and being, then wouldn’t we have to say that some bad things (I’m deliberately not using the word ‘evil’) are true since they exist?  With these cases of “ought not to be,” Anselm opts for a “thinner” account. God only permits them.

On Free Will

Thesis: To be able to sin does not belong to the definition of free will (1.1).  However, we did have a capacity to sin or not to sin, yet this was not of necessity. We do have a “natural free will” of sorts (3). Our liberty of will is “the capacity of preserving rectitude of will.”

A truly free will is one that preserves rectitude of will for its own sake (13).

Why God Became Man

Aside from the ontological argument, this might be what Anselm is most known for. God became man because only a God-man could properly mediate between both God and man.  Seems simple enough.  Yes, this is substitutionary atonement, but not in the way a modern reader might think. Anselm’s primary argument is that only a God-man could restore the offense against God’s honor.  God, as our feudal lord, has been wronged.  This is not what we normally think of in the atonement.

That has always been my criticism of this book.  I was recently corrected on this by Mr. Philip Pugh.  He pointed out that Anselm’s model is closer to ANE covenant models than one might expect.  To be sure, Anselm knew nothing of such models. Nevertheless, if only by accident, he got much of it correct.


You cannot be called a serious student of theology if you have not read this book.  The Monologion and Proslogion could probably be read with profit every few years.  Other treatises, such as De Grammatico, are better read with commentaries on Anselm in h and.

[i] Davies and Evans, Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 13.

[ii] Ibid.

Confession of Faith (AA Hodge)

Hodge, A. A. The Confession of Faith. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1869 [reprint 1958].

A. A. Hodge’s genius is in organization, much like that of his father, Charles. There is some overlap with his Outlines of Theology, but there is also new material relating to the law of God, the civil magistrate, and church courts.  Of particular interest are the study questions at the end of each chapter.

The Decree

Hodge distinguishes between “an event conditioned on other events, and the decree of God with reference to that event being conditioned” (65).  “The decree determines the nature of the events” (66).  In other words, an event is not always reduced to God’s efficient cause only.

The system of events is absolutely certain.  That in no way impedes the free actions of free agents.


Another evidence of the harmony between God’s decree and our free actions is our own self-consciousness. So Hodge: “We are conscious of acting freely according to the law of our own constitution as free agents” (96). Hodge is only noting that even given the truth of the divine decree, we have no evidence that we are automatons, quite the opposite.

Christ the Mediator

Christ’s mediation is indexed to his being Savior and Head of the Church. We prove this by noting what he specifically received when he discharged the terms of the covenant: upbuilding of the redeemed church (137).

When Hodge explains the unity of the two natures, he is on very dangerous ground. He writes, “It is impossible for us to explain philosophically how two self-conscious intelligences, how two self-determined free agents, can constitute one person” (141). At first glance it seems that this is Nestorianism, since he places two self-conscious intelligences within the God-man. I don’t think he is saying that, though.  Intelligences are minds, not persons. This is very thin ice, but Hodge is able to run across it quickly.

Free Will

We have free actions because “we are conscious, in every deliberate action of choice, that we might have chosen otherwise.” Moreover, we act from a “purpose or desire,” with “the internal state or heart, which prompted the act” (160).

Effectual Calling

Men are “entirely passive with respect to the special act of the Spirit whereby they are regenerated; nevertheless, in consequence of the change wrought in them by regeneration, they obey the call….” and are active (169). Regeneration and conversion are not identical. After regeneration, “the soul itself, in conversion, immediately acts under the guidance of this new principle in turning from sin unto God through Christ” (171).  “Making a man willing is different from his acting willingly” (172).


If one holds to the moral influence of the atonement, it’s hard to see how justification is any different from sanctification (180).

Faith = “assent of the mind to the truth of that of which we have not an immediate cognition” (202).

Knowledge = “perception of the truth of that of which we have an immediate cognition” (202).

Faith doesn’t mean there is no evidence.  It simply notes that the evidence is not immediately apparent to cognition.

Good works

Hodge has a good section refuting “works of supererogation.” Such a work, in theory, goes beyond what the law demands. This is false because God’s law is perfect and one cannot go beyond it.  Moreover, even the best saint in this life is unable to perfectly meet God’s law (225).

Following this, Hodge refutes the distinction between “commands” and “counsels.” He notes “that which is right under any relation is intrinsically obligatory upon the moral agent standing in that relation. If it is not obligatory, it is not moral.  If it is not moral, it is, of course, of no moral value or merit.  If it is obligatory, it is not supererogatory” (226).


Every covenant God made with mankind included children (346). The Old Testament church is the same as the New Testament church. “Infants were members of the Old Testament church” (347). Christ and his disciples speak and act on the assumption that the children are in the same relation as they have always been.

The Lord’s Supper

The church must use “the common bread of daily life” (358). (No stale chiclets.)

Transubstantiation contradicts our senses and reason, for “reason teaches that qualities cannot exist except they inhere in some substance” (360). 

The true, Reformed position, rather, teaches “the body and blood are present, therefore, only virtually” (362). We receive Christ by faith, not by the mouth. The reader can decide for himself how close to Calvin’s view this is.

This is a handy volume on the Westminster Confession for study groups.

The Practical Philosophy (Dabney)

Dabney, R. L. The Practical Philosophy. 1897. Reprint, Harrisonburg, VA. Sprinkle Publications, 1984.

It’s the current year.  Nothing I can say can (or should) excuse Dabney’s more egregious faults.  I’ll only say this: apply the same standard across the board.  Aristotle believed in abortion and didn’t believe women were fully human.  Plato believed in sexual communism. Evangelicals voted for Trump.  Which historical figure can stand in that great day?

Should one read Dabney?  That depends. (It’s the current year.)  Should one make him a staple of his theological diet?  Probably not.  That honor would go to Shedd or Hodge.  On the other hand, if one wants to understand 19th century American intellectual thought (not simply Reformed thought), Dabney is required reading, if only to attack him. (It’s the current year.)

We can take it a step further.  There aren’t many Reformed treatments on the emotions and the will.  Before Richard Muller I can think of…well, none.  If you want to understand how 19th century thinkers, both Christian and non-Christian, thought about the will and the soul, then you have to read Dabney.  You simply won’t find any detailed treatment of faculty psychology from an American Christian on these issues.

In what is perhaps a surprising move from a Reformed theologian, Dabney stresses the importance of feelings.  There can be no motive or action without feeling (Dabney 5). Feelings do not ebb or flow, only their intensity does.  A state of calm is just as much “feeling.” Feelings are not independent, though.  As he later writes, “Feelings are conditioned on the presence before the intellect of an appropriate cognition” (105).

To feel nobly is better than to think acutely. A noble incentive of generous feeling energizes the will, which whets the intellect. Dabney makes a distinction between sensibilities and appetencies (10ff). Sensibility is passive; desire is active.  Desire or appetency: the soul acts from inward to outward (11). There is an element of spontaneity. Sensibilities are the occasions for the outflow of appetencies. My free agency doesn’t come into play when I experience sense impressions. This distinction necessary for free agency. Appetencies are the essential element for motive (14). A mere feeling is not necessarily a sensibility.

Book II is the most important part of the book, as he analyzes the nature of the will. When one chooses, one chooses something. This object presents itself to the mind as both attainable and good. The “conjoined function of judgment and appetency…prompts our own volition; it is the spirit acting in both these concurrent modes” (141). Our appetencies can remain dormant for a time. Our volitions do not.

It is better to speak of a “Free soul” than a free will. Faculties act efficiently on faculties.  “Thought is the soul thinking,” etc.The soul determines volition, “and that soul is self-determined to volition, and therefore free”(151). God’s foreknowledge doesn’t compromise the freedom of a creature (154). An infinite mind can arrange for the certain occurrence of an act. The fatalist sneaks in a hidden premise: God can only work through compulsory means. Our motives determine all our deliberate volitions (158). Inducements are objects of our desire that are capable of stimulating our sensibility. Motives are subjective appetencies

Argument: Whatever we deliberately choose, “it is because we have a motive for our choice” (168). To persuade someone, we have to get him to move his will to some inducement (172). This isn’t the cause of his actions. We have to change his subjective disposition. While we maintain free agency, we do not believe the will is in equilibrium at the moment of the choice. It is in some sense determined by “prevalent antecedent motives” (190). Up to this point, Jonathan Edwards is correct.  (He erred in making God the sole efficient cause in Original Sin).

The second half of the book deals in practical philosophy.  Dabney refutes various ethical theories.  Of particular interest is utilitarianism and Jonathan Edwards’ hedonism.  Jonathan Edwards’ view: virtue is benevolence to being in general (220). “Every judgment of beauty is analyzable into a perception of order and harmony.” New England Theology: love to being in general became affection of benevolence.

Refutation: Scripture doesn’t define love to God as benevolence to being in general. Loving God’s holiness is not the same thing as affection for kindness. This ethics is unworkable for most of humanity.  The average peasant mother doesn’t care about benevolence to being in general. On this reasoning, a son is better off saving a great stranger than his own father.

Dabney’s true genius lies in his take on wealth and economics.  (In one of the strangest ironies, he sounds very close to Tim Keller and the TGC men). Dabney has an excellent section on wealth that avoids communist decadence on one hand and gangster capitalism on the other hand.  We can desire wealth within its proper limits: The desire must not become inordinate (84ff). The desire must propose itself to pure and just objects. It must never become inequitable.

Unlimited luxury is sinful. God gives us wealth so that we may be stewards. It is objected that spending money on luxury items provides income for those who produce them.  Dabney responds: these luxuries “create wider mischief” (471). It degrades those who use them, and redirects capital and energy away from nobler pursuits.

On usury: medieval scholasticism said usury was wrong because money cannot reproduce. This is a fallacy because we know that capital lent does create new values (489). Moreover, usury laws merely drive up the prices of goods. Lenders know that their loans will become riskier. This means the supply of money is diminished and the demand is now increased.  The prices go up.

In conclusion, this is a valuable primary text for studying 19th century religious thought. Be that as it may, Dabney’s other views will prevent this from being more widely read.

Works of William Perkins vol 6

I want to thank R. Scott Clark at the Heidelblog for help making this review possible.

Perkins, William.  The Works of William Perkins vol. 6. Eds. Joel Beeke and Greg Salazar. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018.

One of the casualties inflicted upon the Reformed world by the Young, Restless, and Reformed crowd is the reducing of the Reformed faith to predestination.  A further casualty is misunderstanding the richness of predestination.  William Perkins corrects both. The latter half of the book is a refutation of Alexander Dickson’s hermetic memory techniques.  Perkins uses the teachings of Peter Ramus to refute them.

The Golden Chain

This is an early body of divinity.  In some respects it anticipates the structure of the Shorter Catechism. While some of his remarks on the doctrine of God echo the content in volume five, they are nonetheless worth repeating.  God’s nature is simple in that “whatever is in God is his essence” (Perkins 13).

A divine person is distinguished by a personal property, or its manner of subsisting in the divine essence (20). When God begets the Son, he begets him “within Himself” (21). Any subordination is ruled out, though one may speak of a logical ordering of the persons.

God ordained certain men to salvation to the praise of his glory (46). That is God’s decree.  It is not identified with the execution of it, which has three parts: the foundation (Christ), the means, and the degrees.  Because Christ is mediator, he is not subordinate to the decree of election, but only to the execution of it (48).


Perkins has some valuable discussion on the ten commandments, a few of which we will explore in detail.  Given his background, we are not surprised to see his responses to occultism.  He writes that “Albeit the devils cannot work miracles, yet may they effect marvels or wonders…by causing a thin body (as the air) to be thick and foggy…The foundation of magic is  a covenant with Satan” (82).

In the third commandment he sees a rebuke to astrology, which he identifies with magic (93).

In the seventh commandment he notes that having sex with the devil is a violation of it (125). Quite true. He also sees a violation in “effeminacy.”  That does not mean not acting like a manly manly man.  Rather, it is idle wantonness which stirs up lust.

I found it interesting on the eighth commandment that he says “idleness” is a violation of it, or living like you have no calling (133). Perkins rightly condemns usury (135), though he understands there are times when both can agree on something above the return.

I’m not sure his talk on “just price” works.  A “just price is then observed when as things prized and the price given for them are made equal” (138). This sounds good; it’s impossible to do.

On the sacraments I urge the reader to consult the charts in the book.

On fighting sin: if you are struggling with lingering sin, “accustom yourself to subdue the lesser sins, that at last you may overcome the greater” (200).

On Free Will

The Order of Predestination

The supreme end is God’s glory (305). The means of accomplishing this is creation and the permission of the fall. God’s will does not cause the fall. Rather, God did not give Adam his confirming grace.

To show that God doesn’t will evil, Perkins explains the complex taxonomy of the will. God either wills a thing itself (such as creation), or the event (sin).  He does not effect the event; rather, he doesn’t hinder it (322).

When God wills a thing, he either wills absolute (the good in itself), nil (wills that x doesn’t exist), or partly both (wills not the being but the event).

The human will is “a power of willing, nilling, choosing, refusing, suspending which depends on reason.  By ‘power’ I mean an ability or created faculty” (395). A will has the property of liberty whereby “it is free from compulsion or restraint, but not from all necessity”(396). Perkins has in mind the “necessity of infallibility” (396). God’s infallibility orders man’s will, yet there is no compulsion. God decrees the secondary causes by which the will naturally works (430).

God’s will is the “beginning or first cause of all things…and of all their motions” (397). God not only wills the being of all things, but their goodness as well. 

Regarding man’s act of willing, there are five moments (405);

1) action of the mind

2) deliberation of the means to accomplish (1)

3) a determination

4) the choosing to do or not do

5) the free movement

Even after the fall, man has all of the above.  What he often lacks is strength.

Perkins notes three graces that move in our conversion:

1) Preventing grace: God imprints a new light in our mind.

2) working grace: God gives to the will the act of well-willing.

3) coworking grace: God gives the deed to the will (424).

On Memory

This section is rather difficult because it relies on key Ramist distinctions (which Perkins doesn’t always explain) and he is dealing with rather bizarre occultists. Alexander Dickson, following the hermeticist Giordano Bruno, developed a mnemonic device.  That sounds innocent enough.  On first glance it looks stupid, but harmless.  There’s more going on.  Bruno and others believed they were tapping into the divine mind by means of sigils and mental locations.  That’s approaching rather dangerous ground.

It seems Dickson is saying that if you place items in mental locations, you can recall them better.  I think that is what he is saying.  It really isn’t clear, nor is it clear exactly how this works. Frances Yates explains it this way: Imprint on the memory a series of loci or places. Pretend you are using a spacious building. The places should form a series and be remembered in order.  Give each fifth locus some distinguishing mark.

The danger is when Dickson suggested a ready-made “building” for one’s memory: the Zodiac.  Now we are bordering on open magic.

Dickson’s memory chart.  This is actually Perkins’ analysis of Dickson.

(From McKim)

We rejoice that the works of William Perkins are now available and accessible.  This is a great volume because it takes predestination to the next level of understanding it rescues Reformed theology from the claim that it subordinates Christ to the decree of election.

John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith

May 13, 2015

I read through Damascene’s On the Orthodox Faith in 2009.  At the time I had hyper-Palamite lenses on and really didn’t let Damascene speak for himself.  I am rereading him now, years and paradigms later.  He’s really quite interesting.  Contrary to the neo-Palamite Orthodox today, he isn’t afraid of “rationality” or using proofs for God’s existence.  In fact, he sounds VERY Aristotelian.  To be fair, he does anticipate later Orthodox mysticism by calling God “hyper-ousia” (I.4).

Existence and Nature of God

He does use Scripture and does allude to the Fathers, but the main thrust of his argument is natural theology. His argument for God’s existence is as follows:

(1) All things that exist are either created or uncreated. 

(2) If created, then mutable and subject to change and perishing

(3) But things that are created must be the work of some Maker

Damascene anticipates the infinite regress rebuttal and handles it in an amusing (if not entirely convincing manner)

(4) “For if he had been created, he must have been created by someone, and so on until we arrive at something uncreated.”

Perhaps not the most persuasive argument, but historically it is very telling.  The holy fathers were not averse to using “logic,” even logic apart from Scriptural and Patristic considerations, to prove points about God.

Damascene follows standard Patristic and classical usage in that the nature of God is incomprehensible.

(5) His essence is unknowable

How then can we speak about God?  In what sounds like a later Palamite move, John says, “God does not show forth his nature, but the qualities of his nature” (1.4).  Is this the same thing as saying “We can’t know God’s nature but only his energies”?  Not quite.  John does not use any of the cognates of energein.

A note on apophaticism

If we say, as John does, that God is not “darkness,” but above darkness.  Not light, but above light–why can’t we carry it through and say “God is not love, but above love.”  God is not a, b…z.  If God is above every reference point, then how can we truly predicate anything of him?  We are no longer using analogous language but equivocal language.

Pre-Notes on the Word

He doesn’t deal with Christology until Book 3 but he gives short comments here. 

(6) God always possesses his Word, proceeding from and existing within Himself (I.6).

John reasons analogously from our words proceeding from our minds, and is not identical with mind but not separate from it, so the Word has its subsistence from God.  Probably not the best analogy in the world.I find it ironic that we are always warned against Theistic Analogies, but John and Augustine go haywire on them.

(7) If a Word, then the force of the Word, which is the Spirit (1.7).

God and Being

(8) God is outside of being, yet the fountain of all being (I.8).

Along with this John gives the classic summary that God is one essence, one divinity, one power, one will, and one energy. John then gives a classic summary of the Trinity, but I want to highlight one point:

(9) “Whenever we say God is the origin of and greater than the Son, we mean in respect of causation.”

Here is the problem: Isn’t a cause different in substance to an effect?

Back to Divine Attributes

(5*) Goodness et al belong to the nature but do not explain it.

What does that even mean? 

(5′) We do not apprehend the essence itself, but only the attributes of the essence.

Will this hold water? Later thinkers, with echoes from Athanasius, identify attributes and essence.  If we apprehend the attributes, how are we not apprehending the essence also?

Angelic Personalities

(10) Angels are not spatial entities, but a mental presence and energy.

This is quite interesting and is backed up by numerous accounts of spiritual warfare.  An angel cannot be in more than one place at one time (“cannot energize two different places at the same time”).

Concerning this Aeon or Age

John notes that “age” has many meanings (II.1).

(11) An age is used to denote the temporal motion and interval that is co-extensive with eternity.


John has a really interesting section on angels.  It’s too long to replicate here, except to note several points:

(12) Angels are immaterial, mental presences. He notes some are set over nations, and ceterus paribus, this would apply to demons as well (though John fails to cite the most obvious texts to prove his point, Daniel and Revelation).

Days of Creation

John’s discussion of the days of creation is more on the nature of air, winds, constellations et al than concerning timing.  Interestingly, John says the four rivers are Tigris, Euphrates, the Nile, and the Ganges (I didn’t see that last one coming, though I suppose it could work).

Man in Creation

John’s view is markedly different from later views and apparently from the text.  He writes, “He meant for us to be free from care and have on work to perform, to sing as do the angels” (II.11).  This is no doubt true, and I suppose we wouldn’t have anxiety, but God very much intended us to subdue the earth and fill it.

God dwells in the soul, not in the body, and the soul is far more glorious than the body.  To be fair, this isn’t gnosticism or even chain of being, but a hard push can make it so.  However, he does speak of the Tree of life as “a divine thought in the world of sense and we ascend through that to the cause.  Here is the heart and definition of later monastic anchoretism.  The Christian life is one of participation and ascent from sense to hyper-ousia.

John correctly affirms substance-dualism (II.12).  Unfortunately, he holds to the flawed image/likeness dichotomy which can’t stand up to scrutiny.

Free will:  John affirms it, but what does he mean by it?  He says “there is no virtue in mere force,” which seems to be a rejection of materialistic determinism, which no Christian tradition holds today.

On the Soul

While John takes the body-soul dualism in an unhealthy direction, he does have some perceptive remarks on the soul:

  1. Mind is the purest part of the soul.
  2. The soul is free.  (Remember, R.L. Dabney argued that the soul, not the faculty of will was where true freedom lay).
  3. It is mutable because it is created (II.12).
  4. Sensation is the faculty of soul whereby material objects are discriminated (II.18).  This is a remarkably modern observation.  Sensation is not reducible to the matter.  We do not feel the faculty of sensation.  Rather, by sensation we feel pain, pleasure, etc. John reduces sensations into numerous sub-faculties, which need not detain us.
  5. The soul also has the faculty of thought, and it is this faculty which prophecies to us.
  6. Faculty of memory.
  7. Faculty of conception.

Energy:  energy is that which is moved of itself (II.22) and in harmony with nature. .  Our energy is the force within our nature that makes present our essence (II.23).  However, John will call our natural faculties “energies,” as well.  Most importantly, an energy is moved of itself (and here is where the Reformed will ultimately differ with John).  

Our soul also possesses the faculties of life:  

The Movement of the Will

Given that Maximus the Confessor was tortured less than a century earlier for his dyotheletism, it is understandable John will devote a lot of space on the will.   Here we go:

  1. Will as thelesis: faculty of desiring in harmony with nature.
  2. Will as boulesis: a wish for some definite object.  We can only wish for something within our power.
  3. Will as gnome: inclination.  Jesus’s soul did not have a gnomic will
  4. The faculties of will are called energies (II.23).

Jesus has two wills, natural and divine, and his volitional faculties aren’t the same.  However, since the subsistence is one, the object of his will, the gnomic will, is one.

The Act of Choosing

(13) A voluntary act is one which originates from within the actor (II.24).  

John does make distinctions between providential necessity (seasons, laws of nature)

(13*) John says all mental and deliberative acts are in our hands.

This is no different from Reformed Scholasticism, which affirms that we have freedom of contradiction and freedom of contraiety (Muller 1995, 2007)..  

Side note: Elsewhere, John says that Christ, strictly speaking, did not have judgment and preference (gnome; III.14). Judgment and preference imply indecision and unknowing, which Christ, as fully God, could not have had. 

(14) Free-will is tied with man’s rationality (II.27)

If we are going to say, with John, that will is the faculty of willing, we must make a further distinction between that faculty and “choice” (arbitrium), arbitrium being the capacity of will to make that choice.  


John divides the works of providence into things that come from God’s will and God’s permission.  John justifies the misfortunes men experience under providence with the assumption that it works for a greater good (teaching, lead to repentance, etc).  


God knows all things but does not determine all things (II.30).


Much of what John says on the soul and the will is quite good.  This allows the Reformed an opportunity to robustly affirm what we believe about the will, given the confusion of the day. I do think his sub-categories of the will simply become unwieldy and his discussion is too minute.  

John is simply following Maximus, but I wonder how coherent Maximus’s discussion of dyotheletism is.  I affirm dyotheletism, but how many people can understand the difference between will, act of willing, and a mode of the act of willing?  


The Divine Economy

Gives an extended discussion of the two natures.  Standard classical Christology

(15) “But this is what leads heretics astray: they look upon nature and person as the same thing” (III.3)

Communicatio Idiomata

(16) “The Word appropriates to Himself the attributes of humanity” (III.3)

This is good Reformed Christology…so far.  The attributes of humanity are predicated, not of the divine nature but of the Person.

(16*) … “And he imparts to the flesh his own attributes by way of communication”

And here John sounds like a Lutheran.  The flesh receives the attributes of deity.  John wants to preserve several values:

(16a) The flesh is deified (which as to be the case if his teaching on the Lord’s Supper holds water).
(16b) Divine impassibility is not threatened (which is why the communication appears to be a one-way street).

Does John elucidate upon this problem?  

(17) Essence signifies the common, subsistence (person) the particular (III.4).

This lets John say in III.3 that the flesh receives the Word’s attributes while in III.4 he can claim that the flesh doesn’t receive the properties of divinity.

(18) Conclusion: “Each nature gives to the other its own properties through the identity of the Person and the interpenetration of the parts with one another.”

How are they united?

(19) The Word of God was united to flesh through the medium of mind, which stands midway between purity of God and grossness of flesh (III.6).

(See Bruce McCormack’s lecture on Patristic Christology where he deals with this passage).   Does this work?  It seems like “mind” is acting as a metaphysical placeholder between the two natures.  “The mind is the purest part of the soul, and God the purest part of the mind.”  It looks like this:

(gross matter) body—-> soul——>mind ——> better part of soul—>God (Pure Spirit)


“And so the Word was made flesh and yet remained wholly uncircumscribed” (III.7)

John comes back to the question of communication and sounds a Lutheran strain:

(18*) “It [The Divine Nature] imparts to the flesh its own peculiar glories”

Make of it what you will.

From Christology to Liturgy

John demonstrates that Christology informs our liturgy, and gives a defense of the Trisagion

“Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us” (repeat 3x).  The church learned it when a lad was snatched to heaven and taught the hymn by angels, and so the city averted disaster (III.10).  


Energy is the efficient activity of nature (III.15).  Therefore, Christ has two energies.  John says he works his miracles through the divine energy.  This is false.  He works his miracles because of the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Matthew 12:28: “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of god has come upon you.

Acts 10:38: “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power…”

Luke 4:1, 14, 5:17: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness…And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…and the Power of the Lord was present for him to perform healing.”

(19) The flesh acted as the instrument of the divinity (ibid).

John mentions this in passing, but it is at the heart of Orthodox deification soteriology. What does this mean?  A deified flesh is not one that changed its nature, but received the permeation of the divine nature.  

I think we have a potential contradiction at this point.  John is very clear that Christ’s human nature has a human energy, which is its efficient power.  I have no argument with that.  But if the human energy is what John says it is, then what is its relevance in an instrumental humanity?  If humanity is just the instrument of divinity, then why bother speaking of energy at all?  Further, since the subsistence of the Word does everything, then there is no way to say that the human energy of Christ ever activates.

(19*) The flesh received the riches of the divine energies (III.17).  

What is the upshot of all of this?  John says he was able to cleanse the leper because of his divine will.  Will this hold water?  Maybe.  We’ve already established that Christ did his miracles because of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  However, the text elsewhere speaks of Christ’s power going forth from him.  Further, those engaged in deliverance ministries speak of a heightened sense of Christ’s power after they have fasted.  

(19’) The riches of the divine energies heighten the power by which the Holy Spirit works in the believer.

Can John maintain both impassibility and divine suffering?  Maybe.  He has an interesting argument.  

(20) The soul shares in the pain but is itself not changed by the pain (III.26).

John gives an example:  if I cut myself with a knife, my soul feels the pain but the soul, being simple and immaterial, is not cut by the knife.  This is consistent (at least on the first level) with what John said in (19).  If the soul is the medium between God and man, or God’s nature and man’s nature in Christ, then the divine person can be truly present in the suffering without his immaterial nature undergoing change.

This seems to work, but it opens another question:  if the soul participates in the divine nature, and if there is an open street between them, it’s hard to see how the divine nature isn’t also experiencing perturbations.  

Book IV

Book IV is something along the lines of “soteriology” and the “life of the church.”   

Concerning Baptism:  While John, like most of the fathers, probably holds to baptismal regeneration, it’s interesting he doesn’t take it in extreme directions. He says others who have not had a Trinitarian baptism should be rebaptized (IV.9).  Regeneration takes place in the spirit, not necessarily in the act of baptism (p. 78, col. 2).  John justifies the church’s use of oil in baptism because of Noah and the flood (p. 79 col. 1).

The Power of the Cross

The power of God is the Word of the Cross (p. 80 col. 1).  All of this sounds good but John now moves into dangerous waters:

(21) We ought to worship the sign of the Cross because the honor passes from the image to the prototype.

A warning sticks in my head:  something about not worshiping man-made pesels.  

Further, we should worship towards the East (IV.12). John argues:

(22) Since God is spiritual light, and since the sun rises in the East, we should worship towards the East.

This doesn’t follow–at least not yet.  John refines his argument:

(22*) We are composed of visible and invisible nature.  Therefore, our visible nature corresponds to the physical sun rising and our invisible nature corresponds to God’s being spiritual light.

I’m not convinced.  Perhaps there is one other argument:

(22’) Christ will appear in the East and our worshiping towards the East is a joyful anticipation of his return.

It’s a pious sentiment and I suppose it hearkens us to vigilance, as long as we don’t make it a law.  John acknowledges this tradition is unwritten and he says many apostolic traditions are.  The problem he now faces is proving that tradition x is part of the apostolic tradition.  It simply cannot be done without asserting the consequent (and that one argument is why Orthodox Bridge is terrified of me). 

The Sacraments

(23) The bread and wine are changed into God’s body and blood (p. 83 col. 1).  

John warns us not to ask how.    Nor does he give any argument.  He does deny ex opere operato, for he says it only forgives sins for those who receive it with faith.  John appears to contradict himself:

(23*) The bread of communion is not plain bread but bread united with divinity (p. 83 col. 2 paragraph 3).

If the bread is changed into God’s body (23), then how can it be united with God’s body (23*).  It doesn’t make any sense to say that my body is united with my body.  

(24) The bread (used metonymically for “bread and wine”) is our participation and communion in Christ’s body.  

On Mary

(25) Mary did not have pain in childbirth (p. 86 col 1).

John has to make this claim if the EO view of Mary’s being uncorrupt holds.  To put it crudely, her “lady parts” were not damaged in childbirth, for how could the one who heals corruption (death, physical destruction) cause physical corruption in someone?

Of course, he holds that Mary never had sex with Joseph and that the phrase “first born,” simply means Jesus was born first, not that there were others.   This is strained almost to credulity.  Further, the argument that Mary knew that she gave birth to God and wouldn’t pollute herself with sex won’t work, for Mary often showed ignorance to Jesus’s identity.

Venerating the Saints

John says saints had God dwell in their bodies, and so should be venerated.  But the verse he quotes to prove his point (2 Cor 3:17) simply proves that God dwells in all of the believers.  The only way John’s discussion makes sense is if “saints” refers to departed believers.

Should we venerate their relics?  John says yes and this is his argument:

(26) God did amazing things like springs from the desert and killing people with the jawbone of an ass, so why should we be surprised that God works miracles in the relics of his saints?

This isn’t an argument.  I suppose it’s possible that oil can burst forth from a martyr’s remains, but even if that is true (and I’ll grant for argument that it sometimes happens), how does it follow that we are to bow down and venerate created pesels?  We can rephrase John’s position:

(26*) We should give honor to these heroes.

No one disputes this.


(27) The honor given to the image passes to the prototype (IV.16)

John says the warning in the 2nd Commandment doesn’t apply because it only concerns worshiping false gods (the demons of the Greeks).  Further, God the Father is incorporeal, so he can’t be imaged by art.

This isn’t John’s full argument.  He spells that out in Three Treatises on Divine Images (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press).


He has a good and profitable section on Scripture.


John posits a future Antichrist (IV.26). He is aware of John’s admonition but uses Antichrist as short-hand for the Man of Sin/Beast.  Enoch and Elijah will come and witness against him, which will convert the Jews to Christ.  Much needs to be filled in, but I agree with John. 

Notes on Reformed Thought on Free Choice

Asselt, Willem J. van. Reformed Thought on Freedom: The Concept of Free Choice in Early Modern Reformed Theology. Baker Academic, 2010.

I think the criticisms of this book are overdone and largely unnecessary.  I grant that one cannot read the Reformed scholastics as recovering Scotus.  Even a friendly reader such as Richard Muller criticized A. Vos and Van Asselt on that point. I think, rather, we should focus on this book’s clear strengths.  We have before us a rich and rigorous discussion of medieval ontology.  Further, we have translations from Zachi and Voetius that you wouldn’t otherwise find.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have the writings of Turretin himself.  I largely don’t care whether Turretin is the modern day equivalent of a determinist, compatibilist, or libertarian.  That is not my area of strength. I defer to the experts.  On the other hand, I have read Turretin fairly closely over the last decade.  I have an idea of what he said.  That’s what is most important in this volume.

While I remain unconvinced that the Reformed were as Scotist as the authors make them to be, much of the text is straightforward.  Let’s try to ignore the later debates on whether Jonathan Edwards innovated or not. The question before the house, or the status quaestionis, is “What saith Junius?”  We don’t care about trying to make them determinists or compatibilists or libertarians.  We are doing historical theology.  What did they actually say? 

In the introduction we get a survey of modal concepts.  The editors are in dangerous waters.  On one hand, since the Reformed scholastics (and medievals) dealt with issues of necessity and possibility and terms denoted by posse, they engaged in modal reasoning.  They might not have the fine-tuned systems we have today, but it is there.  On the other hand, the more they wade in these waters the more the discussion is likely to turn to modern discussions of libertarianism and determinism, and so incur the ire of analytic theologians.  Maybe that can’t be helped.

Fun fact: the more I read these guys, the more I realize that the Reformed have much in common with Dominican style theologians. We stand with Banez and Thomas against the Jesuits.

Main idea:  For the Reformed, “God as the First Cause (prima causa) and creatures as secondary causes (secunda causae) concur together in their acting to produce a contingent effect” (Van Asselt 33).

Contingency “is the actuality of the stated act” (39). If p is contingent; p occurs, but p could otherwise not occur. For Aristotle, while he held to contingency, it was only in a temporal sense (41). In each moment “only one state of affairs occurs without any alternative.”

Scotus, on the other hand, argues that for each moment of time, “there is a true alternative for each state of affairs.”


Thesis I: Man before the Fall had truly free choice towards good as well as towards bad (Creation During a Period of Six Days, Bk 3. Chap. 3).

Zanchi defines free choice as “the free agreement of the will” (55). The agreement is that the will follows the intellect. Considered in the abstract, free choice is always free in man.  “But if we consider the powers,” it is a slave (63).

Key argument: even after sin, man always retains the choice that is natural to him (Zanchi, De primi hominis lapsu, Bk 1, ch. 6).  At the risk of anachronism, Zanchi doesn’t seem to be operating with Edwards’ moral/natural distinction.  Zanchi defines free choice as “The faculty of freely willing or not willing, anything proposed by the intellect that you will or not will” (quoted in Van Asselt, 65).

Zanchi clarifies that “the freedom of our will does not consist in that it is driven by no necessity to sinning, but in this that it is free from all coercion” (68).  Therefore, whatever “necessity” means, it cannot mean coercion.  

The will is a faculty of the soul.  All of the potencies of the soul are called faculties (74).

Following the excerpt from Zanchi, the editors give their own interpretation.


Junius expands on the necessity of the consequent angle.  For example, “If Peter walks, it is necessary he moves” (114).  Yet, Peter’s walking is a contingent act.  “This necessary implication does not make moving itself necessary.”


We do not say that the judgment of reason determines the will.  Reason simply judges the goodness or badness of the means (130).

Free choice isn’t identical to free will.  Will has to do with potency.  Arbitrium is the means to be chosen (135).


It is with Voetius that the discussion takes on new levels of sophistication.  Voetius opposes the Jesuit doctrine of “complete indifference of the will,” yet he does allow indifference of a sort.  His running argument looks like this:

1) God is the efficient cause of my will, but not the formal cause.  The formal cause refers to my natural mode of willing.  

2) In eternity there is an indifference to objects to be chosen, A, B, C.  God removes A and C from the eligible objects to be chosen. 

3) In time my will freely chooses B.  While I might have limited choice, there is nothing forcing that choice.

4) Physical premotion: God’s applied power awakens the creature’s potency to a second act..

5) Physical premotion has a structural, not temporal priority.

(3) – (5) refute the Jesuit doctrine of indifference. As my will is premoved by God, which is another way of its being anchored by the divine decree, there cannot be indifference either with God or myself.

Reframing the Structural Moments

1st Structural moment: I am able to choose objects A, B, and C. God is indifferent to all of these.

2nd Structural moment: God selects B; he is no longer indifferent.

Human involvement:

1st: I can logically choose A, B, or C in the abstract.

2nd: In my dependent freedom, I choose B.


Turretin expands Voetius to note that the “indifference of the will” renders prayer and God’s covenant promise irrelevant.  If the will is completely indifferent, it’s not clear what God could do.  Even worse, it’s not clear how God could enact his covenant promises.

Bernardinus de Moor

De Moor applies the coup de grace to Jesuitical indifference.  There cannot be a complete indifference of the will because there are several prerequisites for acting that even traditional Roman Catholics concede (and here we side with the Dominicans).  There is the decree of God, his infallible foreknowledge, and the judgment of the intelleting mind.  The last one is particularly thorny for the Jesuits.  There can’t be complete indifference because the mind is not indifferent to the perceived Good.


Coercion: physical necessity; an outward causes which forces one to do something (39).

Rational necessity: if the intellect judges something to be good, then the will must follow.

Freedom of contrariety: possibility of the will to choose this or that object (46).

In actu primo: this is the faculty of the will in the abstract.

In actu secundo: the will in particular acts.

Bottom line between in actu primo and in actu secundo: there is a structural, not temporal order between the two.


I think it is safe to say that the Reformed orthodox were not “libertarians” of any sort.  I’m not sure Van Asselt even claims that.  There is nothing here of the “Jonathan Edwards” debate (I truly hate that discussion).  While the editors probably overcook the evidence on Scotist synchronicity, their discussions remain invaluable nonetheless.

Jonathan Edwards: Freedom of the Will

I thought I had a book review of this somewhere, but I can’t find it. Edwards’ work is an impressive treatment that anticipates some key issues in analytic theology.


  1. Will: that by which the mind chooses anything (1.1).
    1. Act of will: act of choosing.  JE identifies volition with the prevailing act of the soul; what other writers call “voluntary.”
    2. Determined: under some influence to a fixed object.
  2. Thesis: it is that motive which, as it stands in the view of the mind, is the strongest that determines the will (I.).

Necessity of consequence:  while JE plays fast and loose sometimes with terms, what he says makes sense, nonetheless.   There is also a weaker type of necessity, accidental necessity.

  • Part 1
  1. Thesis: a man never wills anything contrary to his (greatest apparent) desire (section 1).
  2. Section 2: Determination of the WIll
    1. A will is determined when its choice is directed to a fixed object. Motive is that which excites the mind to volition. For Edwards “understanding” is the whole faculty of perception.
  3. Section 3: Necessity
    1. A thing is necessary when it cannot be otherwise. Necessity is a fixed connection between things (e.g., the subject and predicate of a proposition).  Contingency is when something has no previous connection.
  4. Section 4: Moral Necessity and Inability
    1. Moral necessity is the certainty of the will itself.  Edwards’ argument seems to be that it is impossible for the will to act contrary to its greatest inclination. This impossibility is the moral inability.
    2. Moral inability is the want or defect of an inclination.  Being able is not the same thing as being willing.  I can have the faculty/capacity to do x, yet never actualize it.
  5. Section 5: Concerning the Notion of Liberty and Agency
    1. Liberty is the power to do as one pleases.  It doesn’t belong under the category of “Will,” but agency.  Agents are free, wills are not.

Part 2: Is there a such thing as Arminian Liberty?

  1. Inconsistency
    1. If the Will determines all its free acts, then every free choice is determined by a preceding act of choice.
    2. JE sees a chain of causes in each act of the will.  The key question: is this first act of the Will free or not?  If it is free (in the sense of uncaused), then we have an uncaused Cause (God).  If it isn’t free, then the Will is not free.
  2. Is the Will active or passive?
    1. If the Will is active, then the Will is determining other acts of the Will.  If passive, then in what sense is the will a determining factor?
    2. The very act of volition is itself a determination of the mind.
    3. Definition of a cause: an antecedent on which an event depends.
  3. Short essay on the Cosmological Argument.
  4. The soul, even if active, cannot be the subject of effects which have no cause.
  5. JE recaps his argument.
  6. Difficulties in the view that the will is uninfluenced
    1. This is like saying that the mind has a preference but at the same time it has no preference.
    2. To suppose the Will to act in a complete state of indifference is to assert that the mind chooses without choosing.
  7. Liberty of Will and Indifference
    1. On an Arminian gloss, indifference must be taken in an absolute sense. This is so because if the will is already inclined, then the choosing isn’t solely on the sovereign power of the Will.
    2. Is a self-determining will really free? How can the soul be both in a state of choice and a state of equilibrium?
    3. Does the mind suspend itself in a state of complete indifference?
  8. Liberty and Necessity
    1. Acts of will are never contingent.
  9. Connection between the Will and Understanding
    1. Every act of will is connected with the perceived good from the understanding.
  10. Volition and Motives
    1. Every act of will is excited by some motive.
    2. The motive is the cause of the will’s act.
    3. Volitions are necessarily connected with the motive.
    4. If the motives dispose the mind to action, then they cause the mind to be disposed; and to cause the mind to be disposed is to cause it to be willing; and to cause it to be willing is to cause it to will.
  11. God’s Foreknowledge
    1. Thesis: God has a certain foreknowledge of the voluntary acts of moral agents. These acts, therefore, are not contingent.
    2. If God doesn’t have knowledge of the future actions of moral agents, then the prophecies in general are without foreknowledge.
  12. God’s foreknowledge inconsistent with contingent actions.
    1. The voluntary acts of moral agents are necessary in the sense of connection or consequence.
      1. For example, past actions are now necessary.
      2. God’s foreknowledge, therefore, gives the actions a kind of necessary ground of existence.
      3. If something is indissolubly connected with a necessary event, it, too, is necessary.
    2. Therefore, there is a necessary connection between God’s foreknowledge and these events.
    3. Infallible foreknowledge proves the necessity of the event foreknown, but does not necessarily cause it.
  13. Recap of argument

Part III: Is Liberty inconsistent with moral excellency?

The Arminian objects that anything that is necessary cannot be morally praiseworthy.

  1. God’s nature and moral excellency are necessary but that doesn’t preclude His being praiseworthy.
    1. Indeed, it is commanded.
    2. On the Arminian objection, why should we thank God for his Goodness, since His good acts are necessary?
  2. Jesus was necessarily holy and couldn’t sin, yet he is praiseworthy.
    1. In this section Edwards upholds dyotheletism.
    2. God promised to preserve and uphold Jesus by his Spirit.
    3. The benefits of Christ’s obedience are in the nature of a reward.
  3. Moral necessity and Inability are consistent with blameworthiness because of the fact that God gives people up to sin.
    1. If coaction and necessity prove men blameless, then Judas was blameless for betraying Christ.
  4. Command and obligation to obedience are consistent with moral inability to obey.
    1. The Arminian says that the only good acts are when the will acts from a state of Indifference and equilibrium.  Yet, this runs into problems:
      1. If the soul doesn’t act by prior determining influences, then volitions are events that happen by pure chance.
      2. Laws require virtue and repress vice, yet a libertarian action is indifferent with respect to law.
      3. If liberty consists in indifference, then anything that biases the will destroys Liberty.
      4. Yet Scripture teaches that the Saint is most free when he obeys God.
    2. The inclination of a will is itself unable to change.  This would be like saying the mind is inclined otherwise than it is now inclined!
  5. Sincerity of Desires are irrelevant
    1. Men are already inclined or not inclined prior to the relevance of needing to be sincerely inclined.
      1. It is like saying a man should sincerely incline to have an inclination.
      2. Being sincere is no virtue unless it is being sincere towards a virtuous thing.
    2. But being sincere destroys the idea of a Will resting in a complete state of indifference.
  6. Liberty of Indifference is not Necessary to virtue but actually opposed to it.
    1. If indifference of Will is necessary to Virtue, then the heart must be indifferent to the virtuous act when it performs it!
    2. Therefore, there is no virtue (or vice) in habitual inclinations.
  7. Arminian notions of moral agency (indifference) are inconsistent with the influence of motives and Inducement.
    1. If the only good act is one springing from an indifferent will, then what is the point of using motives or promises?
    2. Motives bias the mind and destroy indifference.
    3. If acts of the will are incited by motives, then motives cause those acts, which means the will isn’t self-caused.
    4. If the soul has in its act no motive or end, then in that act it seeks nothing. It desires nothing.  It chooses nothing.

Part IV: Refuting Arminianism

  1. Essence of virtue, etc., lies in nature, not in Cause.
    1. We condemn or praise an act, not in its cause, but in the nature of the act.
    2. If we blame the cause of an act, then we have to ask why that Cause is evil, which moves the discussion back to a previous cause, and so on.
  2. Metaphysical notions of action and agency
  3. On necessity
    1. Strong connection between the thing said to be necessary, and the antecedents.
  4. Moral necessity consistent with praise and blame.
    1. When someone does wrong, it is because he is doing as he pleases, and we blame him for doing as he pleases.
    2. We do not speculate on the Causes of his actions (at least not immediately).
  5. Objections considered
    1. Necessity does not render endeavors to be vain, for we judge an endeavor based on the success of it, and not simply on the means.
  6. We are not fatalists.  Edwards admits he has not read Hobbes.
  7. Necessity of the Divine Will
    1. God wills necessarily, yet no one bats an eye at this.
    2. God necessarily acts in a way to exhibit the perfections of his Nature.
  8. Necessity of God’s volitions
    1. If presented between two objects, ex hypothesi, God will always necessarily choose between the fittest.
    2. JE then gives an amazing analytical theological discussion about the nature of identity.  
  9. Is God the author of sin?
    1. God is not the author of sin in that he is the agent of sin.
    2. Yet God does order the universe in such a way that sin does come about.  Even Arminians must admit this.
  10. Concerning sin’s first entrance into the world.
  11. On supposed inconsistencies.
    1. God’s secret and revealed will.
    2. Men are still invited to the gospel, even if God has secretly ordered the universe in such a way that men will not respond.
  12. On atheism and licentiousness
    1. JE’s apologetics: the doctrine of necessity is the only medium for proving the being of God.
  13. Are we too metaphysical? No.
    1. The being of God is metaphysically construed, and this is valuable for apologetics.
  14. Conclusion
    1. God orders all events.
  15. Appendix
    1. Liberty is the power that anyone has to do as he pleases.
    2. Moral necessity is the connection between antecedent things and consequent things.

Divine Will, Human Choice; notes 3 (Scotus)


Duns Scotus and Late Medieval Perspectives on Contingency

Initial proposition: there remains in the creature an act of potency to be otherwise (143). Scotus isn’t concerned with multiple actualities but potencies (151).  Even when I will A, I logically have the potency to will -A, even if I can’t do both at the same time. This is in actu primo.

While Scotus doesn’t represent a break with the tradition, there are differences with Aquinas.  While both “identified the divine will as intervening between the necessary or simply divine knowledge of all possibility and the visionary divine knowledge of all actualit” (157), Scotus does not agree with Aquinas that the intellect performs the ordering function of the will (159).  Freedom of willing depends “on the absence of anything causally prior to the will.”

Moreover, Scotus grounds “contingency and God’s certain knowledge of it in God’s omnicausality and knowledge of his will” (163). Aquinas, to put it simply, says God knows possibilia by his own contemplation of his essence.  Scotus says they are produced as intelligible in a non-temporal moment or instant of the operation of the divine intellect” (163).

Scotus’s Moments in God

Muller quotes Gelber’s It Could Have Been Otherwise to show what Scotus would have meant by the above paragraph.  I’m going to put it in bullet-format to make it clearer.  Remember, these are non-temporal moments (think of the order of the decrees in the infra/supra debate).

  1. God’s intellect produces intelligible beings.
  2. God’s intellect identifies possible beings.
  3. God chooses among the various compossibilities.

Muller notes on Divine Will, part 2; Aristotle and Aquinas


Aristotle and Aquinas

Main idea: Aristotle never set aside the principle of bivalence but instead presumed a distinction between “definitely true” and “indefinitely true” propositions (88).  A human being can have opposing potencies, and even when one is actualized, the contrary potency doesn’t disappear but remains as a potency.

The Medieval Reception

It isn’t simply “either we are free or God knows everything.”  Rather, as Augustine pointed out, there is an “order of causes in which the highest efficiency is attributed to the will of God” (Civ. Dei 5.9).


Let’s take the statement, what will be tomorrow is necessary.  The medievals understood this statement to be mean: “Whatever is, when it is, cannot be in the same moment other than what it is” (Muller 107). To anticipate later discussions, while the future may not be “up for grabs” from God’s point of view, it is nevertheless contingent.

There is also a distinction between necessity and certainty.  Necessity is lodged in the thing known and certainty in the knower.


Aquinas held that not all effects have necessary causes.  Aquinas maintained free choice by saying rational beings have the potency to more than one effect.  We have a simultaneity of potencies (SCG III.72).

Aquinas and Divine Power.

Muller then discusses the standard distinction of absolute vs. ordained power. This undergirds how God is said to relate to the world, and the world order itself is contingent result of God’s free willing (Muller 121).

Since this created order is contingent, “God has created contingent agents that act or cause effects contingently” (123).  As a result, we have the potency to do otherwise.  We should also point out the language of “determined” in the medievals.  They weren’t thinking about the determinism vs. libertarianism debate.  Determined simply meant the “terminus whether a quo or ad quem of a causal sequence has been identified” (130).

Therefore, per a future contingent, it is “undetermined” not in the sense that God is not aware of it, but that it doesn’t have a determinate cause.  God knows future contingents as “hypothetically necessary, as the effects of contingent causes” (131).